Frequently Asked Questions - Behaviour

That's "Behavior" for Americans. What termites do.

Should we demolish part of the house that's got termites in it?

First up, the answer depends on what type of termites are creating the problem. If they are drywoods, then maybe knocking things down will kill them, but if these are subterranean termites then definitely not. Drywoods live in small colonies, usually in individual pieces of timber, so a thoughtful demolition may effectively remove active colonies. Subterraneans, don't, they like to spread out through the structure and will have paths to ground (for water).  They will just go to ground at the first vibrations and come back up later to resume the attack somewhere else.

What should I do? I've vacuumed them up and there are thousands of them and wings everywhere. It's a rental and I've only been here a week.

You are doing the right thing by vacuuming them up.
Next you need to know whether they have come in from outside or if they are emerging fromsomewhere within the building. If outsiders, keeping your bright lights off and widows shut for the next few evenings should see you through. If they come from within the building, then you need to know how bad the damage really is.

Assessing the situation depends on the type of termite and how long they've been around as well as things like where you are.

The really odd thing about a termite swarm is that it is the one time when cooperation goes out the window.  It is every termite for his- or herself.

Not long after planting, they're nearly dead from termites eating the roots.

In some parts of the world, particularly parts of Africa and Asia, termites will quickly attack and kill transplanted trees and plants.  They attack the roots.  In the past, some very heavy doses of scary pesticides have been used to help the plants get established.  The attacks seem to drop off once the plants have been in for a few months. Keeping the plants well-watered all the time can make a big difference as water-stressed plants are more readily attacked.

Around the world, ants are the main predators of termites.  When you see termite soldiers, most of the funny-shaped jaws or pointy or blocky heads are effective adaptations against ants.  When termites fly, lots get eaten before they can create a safe nest.  This makes life very hard for termites, but usually not so hard as to kill them all off.

Keeping termites in the garden largely means leaving them alone.  Keeping those termites out of you house can be harder.  For the subterranean pest forms, particularly some species of Coptotermes and Reticulitermes, it is probably better not to take the risk.  To be sure, you need to know what species you have and how much of a risk they are in your area. 

Most species of termites have soldiers.  This is a special caste within the colony that takes on certain roles. Soldiers tend to have large heads.  It is very common for their mandibles to be greatly enlarged.

No.  In general termites prefer timber that is a bit soft, decayed or weathered but they will eat many types of hardwood (wood from trees with flowers not cones).  There are also many types of tree that produce timber which is generally termite resistant and quite a few of these trees are hardwoods.

. . to my home?

Mostly they are looking for food, which is usually some sort of wood.  Sometimes they've come to your house chasing water to drink and then look around for closer food.

Very few termites are likely to be interested in eating the straw bales themselves.  Lots of subterranean termites will happily travel through the bales to reach unprotected framing timbers (such as door frames and window lintels). 

You won't sit the bales right on the soil anyway (moisture hazard) so all it takes is some attention to design to put a termite barrier in the foundation, just as you would with any other block house design.

If you've already built without barriers, find a well-skilled termite manager to inspect and advise.

Can they spread disease?

Yes, termites do bite people if you get them angry enough.  With most species they have to find the thin skin between your fingers (or similar) before you'll even notice.  They don't set out to bite people, but they will bite in defense.  Bigger species like Mastotermes, Macrotermes and some dampwood termites are much better at being noticed.

Don't Panic

Firstly, put down that can of fly spray.  It really won't help.  Grab a few termites and put them in a plastic bag or a glass in the freezer.  You may want these later.  Gather up the rest (broom or vacuum).  Maybe feed them to your chickens or fish (if you didn't spray).

Now for the important bits. 

My house looks just like the ones that don't have termites.


Termites have no malice, so it is definitely nothing personal.  Their needs are simple. Food and shelter are almost always freely available for them in what we build. Water is the big issue and often we can build termites out by making it harder for them to get water so they can eat.

They might.  Subterranean termites, of most types, [A house in the woods]will travel at lest 50 metres through the soil to exploit good food.  Termites flying from colonies can sometimes spread a thousand metres.  If your house is well maintained and has a termite management plan, the risk can be reduced to something quite acceptable (but never totally removed).  Apart from known colonies of major pests very close to a building, there is usually little to

A few times each year the sky seems to fill with fluttering termites, but not all of the termites get to fly. some alatesThe colony lets a few grow wings and strike out into the world. A rare time when termites act as individuals. These fliers (called alates) are just for colony reproduction. They seek to find a mate and start a new nest of their own. Just like most of we do.